busy slide

“I’m sorry for this busy slide, let me talk you through it.”  Never be tempted to use a busy slide by either attempting to explain it or by building it piecemeal or worse seeking forgiveness. A busy slide will distract the audience, worse it will distract the speaker. Consider whether there is any value in the item as a whole, break it into smaller and separate slides or forego it as an image completely. Never instruct the audience to simply ignore a busy slide; they will view this as a challenge. Do not use a busy slide.

busy slide


There may be information, structure or process within a presentation that is exceptionally complex. Images may explain complexity but they may also hypnotise the audience. One must consider beforehand the value of such a busy slide beyond simply highlighting the complexity. Images are, as the cliche suggests, worth a thousand words but images with multiple levels, subjects or processes contained will remain complex even by illustration and force interpretation by the audience. That interpretation must happen within 3 seconds or the audience will be forced into interpretation. Explanation of this complexity only works if the audience follows the speaker intently. The usual response is to focus on the complexity, blank out the distraction of the human voice and attempt to solve the puzzle. (You tried to find Wally [Waldo] didn’t you?)

Instructing an audience not to look at a busy slide is an exercise in futility. You went back to find him. Don’t display the busy slide. It is possible to explain complexity by construction in sections but as it is not possible to focus on multiple images. This approach will often result in audience members focussing on disparate parts of the visual. The speaker too is often captivated by the complexity of the image and will keep returning to view it. Consider instead the rationale of displaying or discussing the complexity. Identify steps within a process and discuss these separately.

Lastly, try to refrain from construction of  busy slides that “illustrate” complex relationships using flow and interlocking shapes. Whilst these may look “pretty” they are seldom accurate representations. This will lead to the audience questioning colours or balance or the nature of interlocking jigsaw pieces or their relative size and not actually engaging with the concept being discussed. Such busy slides seldom make the purpose of the creator and raise more questions than explanation can deliver. If one has to introduce the slide and apologise for it, clearly it shouldn’t be in the piece in the first place.

Busy slides should have no place in a presentation. Offering apology or direction will not minimise the problem. Simplify or exclude busy slides.

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Murphy’s Law

Murphy’s Law states that, “if anything can go wrong, it will.” The aphorism, whatever its derivation, should be addressed by all presenters as part of their preparation. Preparation is the best way, not to necessarily prevent problems, because, as the aphorism states, it will still go wrong, but instead, preparation is the best way to recover and cope with whatever goes wrong. Murphy’s Law is also held to more likely to happen as the importance of the presentation rises.

Murphy's lawAt the farthest extreme of Murphy’s Law is suggests that there is no such thing as the perfect presentation. This is true. No presentation is delivered without problems. That does not devalue the presentation as its value is not measured against a plan but in the reception by the audience. This should be the encouragement to all presenters as they plan the presentation and prepare for any eventualities that may derail them. A problem should not ruin a presentation; it may even be perceived as showing added value by the recovery.

Considering the multitude of problems that might occur one should make reasonable preparation for the most likely and for the most significant. Issues of format including page size, incompatible software and programmes, fonts, videos and even colours should be excluded in the pre-presentation workup. Device incompatibility and connectivity similarly should be excluded early on the day of the event by personally running the whole piece through in the auditorium during a break before the appointed session. Technology itself from polling devices even to the battery in the remote control should all be checked. Improve and maximise the environment to manage lighting and back projection, appropriate microphones and stage movement as well as extraneous debris that previous speakers or events may have left. Ensure everything is in place before the stage is taken.

Once on stage however there are still opportunities for Murphy to appear. Projector issues should be overcome by simply closing the programme and continuing. Or asking for a delayed slot. Microphone and sound issues are the role of AV/IT but it is possible to speak slowly and clearly and project to a large room. Previous speakers over running cannot be prevented but it is essential to have clarity from the organisers when following regarding your timing. Do not be distracted by audience movement, reaction or even paucity of numbers. Most of these situations are not about you but to external factors. Do not be put off.

Many problems can arise. This is Murphy’s Law. Keep calm and carry on. Practice and preparation are The Good Presenter’s defence against the majority of problems and the audience reaction and reception is only based on what is delivered, not what might have been.

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polished performers

Polished performers are the best examples to observe in order to improve presentations. Two such polished performers are Vic Brazil and Anand Swaminathan. They can be heard over at feminem.com discussing lots of presentation tips but with a particular focus on women presenting. Whoever you are, there’s loads to learn from their chat.


Some of the tips-

be yourself, the audience really value that

present the image of yourself you want the audience to have

ensure you are introduced in the way you would like to be

be aware and determine your body language

clothing is a risk management issue- feel good but don’t add risk!

microphones pose problems that need addressing before you take the stage

shoes should be “sharp” but not dangerous

practise, practise, practise

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